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A derelict building on Henrietta Street in Dublin city Sam Boal/
carrot and stick

Green Party thinks taxing vacant sites could help tackle housing shortage

The proposal aims to “incentivise development and discourage land speculation”.

THE GREEN PARTY is planning to bring forward legislation that would see vacant and derelict properties taxed.

The proposal aims to “incentivise development and discourage land speculation”.

The party’s amendment to the government’s Planning and Development Bill on the issue was rejected last week so the party plans to propose legislation when the Dáil resumes in January.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: “The changes to our planning system being introduced by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are all focused on incentivising developers at a time when there are 28,000 uncommenced planning permissions for housing units in the Dublin area and a quarter of a million vacant homes across the country.

“Dublin city has 60 hectares of vacant land, spread over more than 280 sites that could be used for housing. In addition, there are growing numbers of derelict buildings boarded up in the city centre.

“We don’t need another carrot incentive for developers to boost their profitability – we need a stick to ensure that the ample land out there ready for development is not hoarded for easy profit.

It is not right that a small three-bedroom family home is subject to property tax, yet prime zoned development land, worth millions, is allowed to appreciate in value, purely for profit, and is not taxed in a similar fashion. The government has dragged its heels on a vacant sites levy. A watered-down version of this levy has been delayed till 2019 and it won’t even apply to derelict sites or buildings. This inaction has contributed to the housing and homelessness crisis.

Legal advice

A spokesperson from the Department of Housing said advice from the Attorney General “dictates that the site levy cannot come into force until 2019 so that those people with vacant properties can put them into use before being penalised”, adding: “The government is keen to see these sites being used.”

Ryan is not happy with this response, telling “We’ve heard this excuse on many occasions before, and it’s very much the ‘go-to’ excuse for the government. This is the same Attorney General who advised, during the last Fine Gael administration, that rent controls would be unconstitutional, only for them to be brought in last week.

The Constitution is very strong on property rights, it’s true, but makes specific provision for acting in the public good. There is no doubt that land hoarders and speculators are damaging society, given the scale of the housing and homelessness crises. The public good has to take precedence here. The only thing stopping measures like we’re proposing is the lack of political will.

The Department of Housing spokesperson said the government is undertaking various measures to address housing and homelessness issues as part of the Rebuilding Ireland plan.

One of the five pillars the plan focuses on is re-using vacant housing stock. The government plans to do this through:

  • A Repair and Lease Initiative (€140 million funding over five years)
  • A Buy and Repair Initiative (€25 million funding for 2017)
  • Purchase by the Housing Agency of vacant buy-to-let properties on the portfolios of financial institutions and investors (€70 million funding for 2016)

Apollo House

When asked about the occupation of Apollo House in Dublin by homelessness campaigners, Ryan said the Green Party understands “the concerns around the use of Apollo House, and agrees that it is not a long-term solution to the problem of rough sleeping”.

However, he commended the activists involved and “the goodwill of the public in putting a roof over the heads of people who would otherwise be sleeping rough”.

Read: 35 homeless people slept in Apollo House last night (and there are plans to increase that number to 60)

Read: Over 2,500 children are homeless this Christmas – here’s what’s being done to help

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